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Summer Feasting

I have not posted anything for a while, having set off to our summer hideaway in the south-west, an old family house amidst endless rows of vineyards, and then just jaunting along from there. It hasn't been a typical summer: sunny days were few and far between, health passes were required for entry to restaurants and travel, and every garden seemingly swarming with frenzied mosquitoes (The mosquitoes were the most-used conversation starter this summer).

Obviously summer is usually my favourite time of the year. Whats there not to like? The days are warm and long, all my favourite fruits are in abundance, and meals are often lighter and easier to whip up. I also get a temporary respite from cleaning and cooking.

This pandemic situation is evolving all the time and clearly it has been catastrophic for some families. We've been lucky so far, and friends and colleagues who fell sick have recovered without serious consequences. With completed vaccinations, or negative Covid tests, travel within Europe has been permitted. I did feel quite conflicted about travelling but it was a precious occasion to see my daughter's godfather (and my good friend) in Spain, and also to reunite with friends we last saw ten years ago. Family and friendships can endure despite distance and time, and those years apart fell away as we talked and laughed together, which really did us a lot of good in these strange times.

We also spent a week hiking in the Pyrenees. I shan't pretend that I am an avid hiker, although it is a yearly activity I have done with my husband since we met. There were times I found it really hard on the steep terrains although the stunning landscape gave me plenty of excuses to pause and take photos. Trailing behind my troop, I would finally catch up at a rest stop only to have them all speed off again. Hiking is not so much solidarity, more solitary.

We started the summer eating light and healthy but were rapidly betrayed by our decadent gustatory cells. I can't say we protested too much. Since this blogs means to mainly share recipes, I've done a little compilation of the things I made or ate (and wish to recreate). Some of the photos aren't great, some I didn't take photos of because I was in too much of a greedy hurry to eat!

Watermelon, Cucumber and Feta Salad

On the rare hot day, I loved this really refreshing sweet salty combination that needed minimum effort and is good with just some crusty bread or as a side to a barbecue. Some wild mint in the garden, and lemon slices that I had used in my jam-making further perked it up. I also like the combination of just watermelon and radish with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil. No measuring or following the recipe strictly here (this is holiday food after all), just wing it.

  • 1/2 to 1 watermelon, peeled and cut in cubes

  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut in cubes

  • 200 g black Greek olives

  • Small bunch fresh mint leaves, torn

  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano

  • 2 tbsps olive oil

  • 200 g feta cheese, crumbled

  • Salt

  • Black pepper

  • Optional: 4 - 5 slices of lemon confit

Throw the watermelon, cucumber, olives, mint leaves and oregano into a large salad bowl, drizzle over the olive oil. Crumble the feta cheese over, season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or chill in fridge while waiting.

Spain offered better weather so outdoor terrace eating was only natural. This was our welcome aperitif spread on the rooftop terrace of my daughter's godfather. Local and luscious cherries, melon, jamón... all you need on a hot evening before you head out for more tapas! Morten taught me how to make an Aperol Spritz using Spanish sparkling wine and its sparkling water.

Morten's Aperol Spritz in Sitges

  • a very large glass

  • ice cubes

  • equal parts Cava (sparkling wine), Aperol, Vichy Catalan (sparkling water)

  • generous slices of orange

Fill glass with ice cubes and equal parts of Cava, Aperol and Vichy Catalan. Garnish with slices of oranges. Drink. Repeat.

At the Mediterranean coast of Catalonia lies Sitges, where we started our summer culinary odyssey. The extreme hot weather did nothing to deflate our appetite.

Pimientos de Padrón

These small green peppers come from the municipality of Padrón in Galicia. We always order double portions of them when at a tapas bar in Spain. One for my elder daughter Anaïs and the other for the rest of us. And since eating them twice a day over several days isn't quite enough, we buy some fresh ones at the grocery store before leaving so we can make some at home on our return.

  • 300 g padron pepper

  • 2 tbsps olive oil

  • sea salt flakes

Rinse and dry padron peppers thoroughly. Heat a heavy bottom large frying pan over high heat. Add olive oil, then peppers. Allow to scorch and blister, tossing ocassionally. Remove with a slotted spoon. Sprinkle with sea salt flakes.

Back from what I would hardly call globe-trotting, a large harvest of mirabelle prunes from the garden meant jam making was the priority. But first, I cut and dry bunches of verveine (verbena) leaves because I like to use them in my jam.

Mirabelle, Lemon and Verveine Jam (and Lemonade)

  • Mirabelle prunes

  • Sugar

  • Dried Verveine Leaves

  • 1 lemon, sliced

Invite your friends over for a cup of fresh verveine tea so that they can help you pit the mirabelle prunes. Or negotiate a deal with your teens (an unexpected byproduct of this jam session is a delicious lemonade). Once pitted, add 750 gms of sugar to every kilogram of fruit. Place in a low-sided, wide stainless steel pan, cover with a clean kitchen towel and leave a few hours or overnight to macerate. In the meantime, prepare your jam jars. Wash and dry them in the dishwasher or boil them to sterilise.

The following day, add a bunch of verveine leaves and lemon slices to your pan of macerating fruit. Over medium heat, allow to come to boil. Remove the layer of scum. With wooden spoon, gently scrape bottom of pan occasionally to prevent sticking and burning. Once it turns a rich golden brown, jam is cooked. You can also put a teaspoon of the jam on a plate, let it cool slightly, then run a finger across the jam. If the two sides don't re-merge too quickly, your jam is done.

Remove lemon slices, put aside to use later in salads or lemonade (no extra sugar needed).

Carefully spoon jam into clean jars, screw caps on tightly, turn jars upside down and leave to cool. Make lemonade with the lemon slices for your pitting crew. Have them label your jars while they enjoy the best and easiest lemonade.

The perfect ending to our summer break was this gorgeous sunset dinner in a fishing village near the Bassin d'Arcachon, with fresh oysters and moules frites. Sigh,the summer can't end just yet! More on Summer Feasting next week...


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